The call by Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor on 16th May in Oxford needs to be endorsed and echoed by all forward-looking British Muslims. The denial of religious rights to and the imposition of Islamic law (shari’ah) upon Christians and other non-Muslims in some Islamic states are not condoned either by the Holy Qur’an or by the life of the Prophet Muhammad.
Since religious liberty and freedom of conscience is a cornerstone of human rights, it is a two-way street and cannot be compromised. While Muslims in Britain and the West are free to practise and propagate their faith, the same privileges must be given to Christians (and those of other creeds) in Muslim majority nations in accordance with the unequivocal teachings of the Qur’an and the Prophet.
The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster is entirely correct in expecting reciprocal rights for the followers of Christ, be they in Riyadh, Kabul or Tehran. The strictures against non-Muslim worship in places like Saudi Arabia not only aggravate tensions between Islam and Christianity, but also violate the eternal ethos of the Holy Qur’an. The Sacred Scripture of Islam, alone among the great religious books, projects an all-embracing salvation that goes far beyond narrow religious confines:
SURELY THOSE WHO BELIEVE, AND THOSE WHO ARE JEWS AND THE CHRISTIANS AND THE SABIANS, WHOEVER BELIEVES IN GOD AND THE LAST DAY AND DOES GOOD, THEY SHALL HAVE THEIR REWARD WITH THEIR LORD AND THERE IS NO FEAR FOR THEM NOR SHALL THEY GRIEVE (2:62; 5:69)
This concept of mutual freedom of worship for Jews, Christians, Sabians, etc, resonates throughout the transcendent text. It cannot be abolished by Wahhabi fundamentalism whether in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or elsewhere. While a reactionary Muslim clergy in some Muslim countries might claim that they are upholding the tenets of Islam when they prohibit non-Muslims from erecting houses of prayer or persecute them for practising their faith, this has absolutely nothing to do with either the letter or spirit of the Holy Qur’an (2:256; 10:99; 18; 29. 109:1-6). Nor is there any plausible justification for this kind of religious bigotry in the laudable conduct of the Prophet Muhammad.
Not only did the founder of Islam permit a visiting delegation of Christians from Najran to pray in his own mosque, but he also exemplified the inherent tolerance of the faith on several occasions. Most notably, by the trail-blazing Constitution of Madinah (622 C.E.) which was signed between the Prophet and the original (Jewish, Christian and polytheistic) inhabitants of that city. This historic charter embodied collective rights and obligations, including the freedom of belief and worship for everyone. It is this exemplary interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims, which epitomises inclusive Qur’anic precepts that should be implemented today, not the exclusive ideology promoted by the mullahs of Riyadh and Kabul. Their latter-day theological fanaticism runs contrary to both main sources of Islamic jurisprudence (The Holy Qur’an and the authentic Ahadith).
Justice, equity and fairness demands that non-Muslims living in the Islamic world should be accorded similar status and rights like those enjoyed by Muslims in the West. When adherents of other creeds are prevented from openly practising their faith, it is incumbent that Muslims oppose such un-Islamic intolerance and discrimination. In the words of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, ‘that is not a matter on which Muslims in Britain should remain silent’. In fact, British Muslims should be reminded that it is an Qur’anic imperative to guarantee religious rights to the ‘People of the Book’ and other faiths. Anything else would be rank hypocrisy since reciprocal religious liberty is assured by the Holy Qur’an and is a hallmark of civilised society.
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